When main defensive end Soni Fonua learned he would start against Alabama, he texted his former Mesa, Ariz. Community College coach Ryan Felker.
“The biggest game tomorrow. But first of all I just want to say thank you. Thank you for everything and the teachings you have given me and the words of wisdom. God put you in my life for a reason and I am blessed to have you be a part of my life … ”
He also called Chenelle Jones, his former defensive coordinator, and Fletcher Jones, his defensive line coach there. If they had time to watch a game, this would be it.
Fonua started off on a revived defense, playing an aggressive three-way front with more blitz. Starting off against the Tigers’ toughest opponent didn’t bother him because he worked through times like these. He stayed the course, letting his body heal from his injuries, and endured the long hours in the study room to get there.
“It means a lot to Soni,” coach Ed Orgeron said ahead of the game against Alabama. “I think Soni is going to end up being a coach someday. He takes his technique seriously. He knows how to line up. He knows how to play in many different positions. Whatever you give him, it’s not too difficult for him. ”
Coaching would be natural for Fonua, a player who had to work in junior football to earn a spot on an SEC roster.
Junior football is not for the faint of heart, but Fonua knew his purpose when he arrived in Mesa. Before his first scrum against Arizona Western Community College, the nation’s No.2 JUCO program, Fonua had to sit down. He had taken a knee cleat and needed stitches.
“The first thing he said was, ‘I can put a bandage on it,’ and I was like, ‘No, it’s a preseason scrum,’ Chenelle said. ‘was an opportunity to find out exactly where he was in preseason, but he was there to teach every rep. And a guy with infectious energy and humility… who makes a great coach. ”
There are denials, there are outright denials, and there are unsaid pleas from coaches when their names are brandished during coach searches.
Fletcher said he remembers when Fonua joined LSU. He wanted to know how he could properly thank all the other programs before he went public. He also had a long way to go academically before he could be transferred. Every morning he was in the tutoring department with his laptop at 8 a.m. or earlier. By the time the coaches called his teachers, he had already touched the base himself.
It was a struggle to be away from his large family in Utah, where he had six siblings. This family culture bleeds into Fonua’s approach to life, and even to the game. He joined LSU because the team felt like family, and now he hosts barbecues for his teammates. In college, that often also meant feeding her roommates.
“He had roommates here and they all looked healthy at all times,” Chenelle said. “So I’m pretty sure he fed everyone. ”
At LSU, that means he can feed a picky Damone Clark his favorite barbecue chicken, jambalaya, dirty rice, and mac and cheese.
“There would be times when Soni would step up on the grill and text us on a Sunday, ‘Come on all to eat,’” Clark said. “He’s the team leader.
“Twice a week I probably go out there and see what he’s up to, he can cook anything,” said linebacker Micah Baskerville.
This translates into the pitch, where Fonua is the teammate he needs in any scheme. Felker said he understood football on a different level, and Clark said Fonua would play any shade in the block. As one of the oldest members of the team, Baskerville respects him.
Fonua had two tackles and one pass deflection in the Alabama game, then four tackles against Arkansas, including two for loss. It emerges at the right time.
“I know like me being the leader of defense I have to bring energy, but he’s someone I can turn to,” said Clark.